NEFAC, Civil Rights Advocates Argue for Release of Police Misconduct Records in Massachusetts

Update (4.26.24): The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that police officers’ names can’t be kept secret from misconduct investigation records on privacy grounds.

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The New England First Amendment Coalition joined several civil rights advocates today to help prevent police secrecy in a Massachusetts public records case.

The case — Mack v. Office of the District Attorney of the Bristol District — involves an investigation into a fatal shooting by Fall River police. Family members are seeking records related to the investigation that a recent change in state law makes public.

The District Attorney, however, is misconstruing the law by denying access to those records, explained NEFAC and other advocates in an amicus curiae brief filed today in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

NEFAC and fellow amici curiae explained that:

The Legislature explicitly determined that the need for transparency and accountability in policing override privacy concerns when it comes to “records related to a law enforcement misconduct investigation.” Should the Court accept the District Attorney’s interpretation, it would rewrite the statute and sanction shielding records the Policing Reform Law was designed to bring into public view.

Massachusetts enacted the legislation in 2020 with the express “purpose” of achieving “justice, equity, and accountability in law enforcement in the Commonwealth,” according to the brief. A key component of the Policing Reform Law is expanding public access to records concerning police misconduct investigations. Of particular concern to amici curiae is the District Attorney’s attempt to narrow the Policing Reform Law’s misconduct-investigation carveout to the Public Record Law’s privacy exemption.

“Such an interpretation would have dangerous repercussions in the Commonwealth,” wrote amici curiae, “particularly for its minority citizens who are disproportionately victims of unjustified use of force by police.”

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. All coalition briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

NEFAC is supported by the Estate of Gloria Negri. Additional funding is provided by Leadership Circle donors including the Rhode Island Foundation, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters of NEFAC’s work are Hearst Connecticut Media Group, Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, the Champa Charitable Foundation Fund, Connecticut Public and WBUR-Boston.